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'Hallelujah': The Story Of One Song's Ascent

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Leonard Cohen's "Various Positions" and Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" (Amazon)

It’s possible that you might have first heard "Hallelujah" in its original form, on Leonard Cohen's 1984 album Various Positions. But it’s much more likely that you first encountered it somewhere else: Maybe in a small East Village pub, being sung by Jeff Buckley. Or at the Winter Olympics, being performed by k.d. lang. Or on the soundtrack for the animated film Shrek, sung by Rufus Wainwright. Or in a scene on TV drama The O.C., performed by Imogen Heap. Simply put: "Hallelujah" has, against all odds, become one of the most widely recorded songs in music history.

In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, music journalist and author Alan Light explains the enduring popularity of the song in his book, The Holy Or The Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & The Unlikely Ascent Of Hallelujah.

This segment originally aired on Dec. 13, 2012.

Further listening:

Jeff Buckley performed along with guitarist Gary Lucas on New Sounds Live, hosted by Soundcheck host John Schaefer, on March 8, 1992. Listen to two tracks from that performance -- "Grace" and "How Long Will It Take?"

Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas - How Long Will It Take? - New Sounds Live

Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas - Grace - New Sounds Live


Alan Light

Comments [9]

TomCatBklyn from Brooklyn, NY

Thank you, John Cale, for bringing Cohen's wonderful song out of obscurity. One of my favorite versions, outside of Cale's closing to Fragments of a Rainy Afternoon, is the teenaged Kate Voegele's version from the TV show One Tree Hill, performing as her character Mia Catalano:

She has since recorded it as herself:


Jul. 28 2014 12:26 PM
Phil from Bronx

Leonard Cohen is one of my heroes and I think Rufus Wainwright owns this song. I know its on a major/popular movie but it is the best. Any live version of it is amazing.

Jul. 27 2014 02:24 PM

Allison Crowe's recording of "Hallelujah" is always amazing and remains my favorite.

I do love the song and that it's so universal.

Jul. 24 2014 04:45 PM

I love many versions of this song, but my most recent favorite is Nathan Pacheco's.

Jul. 24 2014 04:08 PM
Stuart Taranto from NYC native expat in NJ 11yrs

I was already a fan of Buckley when I was told of his death by Bono who was already onstage with u2 at the Tibetan freedom concert at Randall Island, NYC. He broke the news to me and about 80,000 people at the two day festival organized by Adam Yauch, MCA of the Beastie boys.

Bono immediately after, sang a version of Hallelujah, I recorded the show on a pro portable cassette, have it somewhere, great performance by u2 and Bono.

Jul. 24 2014 09:01 AM

Government Mule hits it fine.

Jul. 23 2014 09:37 PM
S.B from LIC NYC

Brandi Carlisle's-beautiful.

Jul. 23 2014 07:16 PM
GraceAnne from Bronx, NY

K.D. Lang's version is magnificent, but a close second is - yes, I was surprised too - Justin Timberlake's.

Jul. 23 2014 07:12 PM

It's actually the John Cale version which was used in the movie "Shrek"; the Rufus Wainwright version only appears on the soundtrack album.

Dec. 13 2012 10:03 PM

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